Why We Misunderstand the Burqa and What It Means for Saudi Women

Fashion blogger Aljazi Alrakan talks about the changing face of women’s fashion in Saudi Arabia.

3 min read

Video Editor & Creative Inputs: Rahul Sanpui
Graphics: Muhammad Usaid, Harsh Sahani
Photo Courtesy: Getty Images/Lynsey Addario

A lot of people abroad were surprised to learn that we don’t necessarily cover our faces and we don’t have to wear abayas when we’re travelling.
Aljazi Alrakan, Dentist and Fashion Blogger

Our perception of what women from the middle-eastern countries look like is shaped significantly by movies. Remember the scene from Sex and the City 2 where Carrie Bradshaw and her friends meet a group of burqa-clad women? What lies under the burqa is not merely lipstick.

With the rise of bloggers, vloggers, and YouTubers from the middle-east some of this voyeurism has ceased. But this kind of visibility has been the result of a long struggle.

In April 2018, Saudi Arabia held its first Arab Fashion Week. The event was not open to cameras and remained women-only, but it was a huge step forward for women in the country.
 ‘Have Voice Will Talk’ is a podcast series that brings you unique voices on issues that matter.  
‘Have Voice Will Talk’ is a podcast series that brings you unique voices on issues that matter.  
(Photo Courtesy: Harsh Sahani/The Quint)

Fashion blogger Aljazi Alrakan, who is our guest for Episode 3 of ‘Have Voice Will Talk’, still refrains from putting her pictures online. Fashion blogging for her began as a hobby, as something she did in her spare time, but it soon transformed into a full-fledged business.

‘Wearing an Abaya is Optional’

Aljazi started working as a dentist in 2005 but soon realised that her hectic schedule didn’t allow her to pursue her hobbies and interests, including her passion for philanthropy and fashion.

So, she reduced the hours spent at work and in 2012 opened her Instagram account under the nickname ‘Jazzebelle’, which eventually became a fashion and lifestyle blog.

My main objective was to share with friends and acquaintances around the world the day-to-day lifestyle of an average Saudi woman.
Aljazi Alrakan

Aljazi was appalled by the reactions she received on the content that she shared on her blog.

A lot of people abroad were surprised to learn that such modernisation and advancements exist in Saudi. They were also surprised to learn that wearing an abaya is an optional thing.
Aljazi Alrakan

‘There is No Shame in Showing Who You Are’

As we all know, social media is dark and full of trolls and Aljazi had to grapple with comments like “you’re spoiling your family name”, “you’re not Muslim enough”, “what you’re doing is un-Islamic” and so on.

Families were shy of allowing their daughters to be exposed on social media or in the media, in general, if they wanted to ensure them a prosperous future in marriage. That perception drastically changed in the last five years.
Aljazi Alrakan

With her blog, Aljazi wanted to prove a point.

I proved a point. I represented myself and my part of Saudi society with dignity and respect. There is no shame in showing who you are and it does not make you less Muslim.
Aljazi Alrakan

‘We’ve Always Managed to Devour Life’

Aljazi’s spirit is commendable and women like her have definitely played a huge role in changing perceptions about women and fashion in Saudi Arabia. The country is now set to lift the driving ban on women.

I don’t think that the lift on the ban on driving is going to have much impact on our social attitudes because we’ve always adapted around it. We’ve always managed to devour life and it never decapitated us.
Aljazi Alrakan

(Note: While the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman and member of council Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq have said that Saudi women are not obligated to wear the abaya in public, the law that requires them to wear the garment remains yet to be altered.)

(Have Voice Will Talkis a podcast that connects you with people who have something to say. Sifting through digital noise, we bring you unique voices on issues that matter. Hey, you’re one story away from seeing the world afresh!)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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